This is part of a three-part series. See also part II and part III.
I don’t generally write a lot of “how-tos” here on Hedgehog & Fox. Recently, however, I spoke to members of the National Speakers Association Carolinas chapter on the strategic importance of blogging, and we also did some hands on work to set up and configure a WordPress.com blog. While all of that was valuable, we didn’t have a lot of time to get into next steps – like how to market and grow your blog once you have it up and running.
The list of steps you can take to market your blog is long, and in some cases complex. If you want to dig deep, you might start with a look at Lee Odden’s 25 Tips for Marketing Your Blog (old, but still almost completely relevant) or Aaron Wall’s excellent collection of resources related to search engine optimization for blogs.
If you are just starting out, however, these can be a bit overwhelming. So, in this post and my next two posts I’m going to cover the five areas I feel are most essential to marketing and growing a blog:
Focus on your blog content first
People tend to forget that the first of marketing’s classic 4 Ps is “Product” (not Promotion) In the world of blogging, your content is the major part of your product and taking the time to make sure it is consistently interesting and relevant for your target audience will pay off more than just about anything else you can do. Be sure to:
- Write posts that include words and phrases your audience is likely to care about. Put yourself in your prospective reader’s place: What would she be likely to type into Google to find you? Be sure to include similar words and phrases in what you write. (There are much more scientific ways of going about this, but my aim here is to keep things simple! If you want to did deeper into search engine optimization (SEO), you might start with Checking in on SEO Essentials.)
- Let your strategy drive your posting frequency and length. Don’t get too caught up in supposed rules about how frequently you need to post or how long or short your posts need to be. If your aim is to establish or enhance your reputation as an expert, you may be much better off publishing one substantive post once a week or so than trying to come up with something insightful to say on a more regular basis. On the other hand, if you are trying to be a source of news in your niche, you may need to publish multiple times a day. Use your judgment, and don’t run yourself into the ground – chances are there are other parts of your business that deserve at least as much time as your blogging!
- Pay attention to what works – then repeat it and build on it. On one of my other blogs I once did a posting about “serious” learning games. It was a subject I was interested in, but knew relatively little about. That one post produced many times the traffic, comments, and subscriptions of previous posts. Needless to say, I’ve since done a number of other posts about serious games! I’ve also went back and made sure that, in the body of this post, I asked visitors to subscribe to my newsletter.In general, if you write something that proves popular, make sure you take advantage of that popularity by updating the post to include a “call to action” that will pull visitors more deeply into your blog – by asking them to subscribe, for example, or by providing links that point them to other content in your blog that they may find interesting. For more on this concept, here’s a quick video from Problogger Darren Rowse on how to “Stickify Your Blog.”
- Create an “editorial calendar.” I use quotes here because this does not have to be a highly involved, formal process. Simply keep a list of items about which it makes sense for you to write, and continue to add to it and shape it over time. This will help keep the ideas flowing and it will also give you visibility into how the topics and themes on your blog evolve. Are you consistently developing related ideas, or do you jump all over the place? In most cases, you are going to have more success with the former.
Make It Easy for Your Visitors to Engage
Simply going through the motions of creating regular blog postings can be a great learning tool for the blogger. Personally, I think blogging is worthwhile whether or not you ever develop an audience, but most of us would prefer to know that people are reading what we write and engaging with us at some level. To encourage engagement, be sure to:
- Make your subscription options prominent. Ideally, the “subscribe” option should appear in multiple places on your blog, but it should definitely be visible “above the fold” – i.e., in the part of the browser window that does not require visitors to scroll down. Here on Hedgehog & Fox, for example, you will see that my subscribe options appear at the top right of every page. I also include a “P.S.” at the end of most posts to encourage visitors to subscribe if they enjoy what they have read.
- Include an e-mail subscribe option. RSS may be the backbone of blog distribution, but many visitors still do not feel comfortable with it. You might help move them in that direction by including a dedicated subscription page in your blog with a link to Commoncraft’s excellent “RSS in Plain English,” but having a “Subscribe by e-mail” option is also a good idea. How you do this will depend on what blogging platform you use. In most platforms – including WordPress, the platform I use here on Hedgehog & Fox – you can use Feedburner to offer e-mail updates. (This is a little complex than would ideally be the case in WordPress.com, but worth the effort.)
- Make sure comments are enabled, and unless you really have a good reason for doing so, do not require users to be registered to comment and do not hold comments for moderation. While this may seem a bit scary, nothing will kill engagement on your blog like putting up barriers to allowing people to comment. It’s a good idea, in my opinion, to require comment authors to fill out their name and e-mail, but beyond that, it should be possible for anyone to comment. (In WordPress.com, you can find options for comments under Settings > Discussion on the left side of your dashboard.)
- Make it easy for readers to share your blog entries by e-mailing them to others or posting them to popular social sites like Facebook or Delicious. Depending on the platform you are using, you may have built in options for including these types of links in you posts or your RSS feeds. Additionally, tools like Share This and Add This make it possible to add a variety of sharing options to your sidebar or to the end of each blog posts. (Note: WordPress.com users are limited in how they can use these tools, but AddThis does provide some options for using its button in the sidebar as well as at the end of blog entries
(For the moment you will have to do as I say rather than as I do on this last one – I am addressing some template issues that are preventing my “share” options from showing up.)
That’s it for Part I. Now check out Marketing and Growing Your Blog: Part II, where I discuss connecting with other bloggers.
Hedgehog & Fox
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